By Chris Jennings
The season's first major cold front moved through Mississippi's North Delta region this week bringing gadwalls, shovelers, wood ducks and surprisingly – mallards. Unfortunately, Mississippi waterfowl hunters will have to be bystanders this weekend as the neighbor to the west, Arkansas, begins its regular duck season Nov. 17. Mississippi's season doesn't open until Nov. 23, but early habitat reports indicate the chance for an opportunity-rich season.
Habitat on the state's Wildlife Management Areas are in good condition thanks to early summer precipitation. Dry conditions since then left many waterways low and natural habitat, including traditional areas along the Mississippi River, will be limited for the early part of the 2012-2013 waterfowl season.
"Many of our WMAs are reliant on moist-soil units and we had decent rain in June and July," Houston Havens, Mississippi Migratory Game Bird Biologist says. "Habitat on these areas is in good shape. We still have some pumping to do, but most are currently pumping water and are half full."
Havens explains that Muscadine Farms WMA, in Washington County, has already seen a fair number of ducks on the property.
"This area picked up a good number of ducks early. The property has excellent pumping capabilities and we were able to get water on the moist-soil units," Havens says. "There were also a good number of mallards on the property, which was a surprise."
The early cold fronts that pushed birds down the flyway may have shuffled these mallards into Mississippi, and the high-quality early habitat may have played a role. Further south in the delta, Howard Miller WMA and Mahannah WMA have also attracted a decent number of early migrants.
Havens will take to the air on Thursday, Nov. 15, performing the state's first waterfowl survey of the 2012-2013 season. The waterfowl counts are done by flying random transects of the entire Delta from Tunica County to Vicksburg. He understands waterfowl hunters' high expectations, but reminds every person he talks to about the variables that play into Mississippi having a good waterfowl season.
"We know people got all fired up when they heard the initial breeding count numbers," he says. "But this number is one piece to a large and complex problem. Being this far south in the flyway there are lots of variables. There are good wetlands down here, but there are a lot of factors that have to come together. Cold weather will be a driving force again."
Overall, Mississippi hunters have more than a week to wait until the season opener, but the season looks promising. Anxious waterfowlers will find Havens' waterfowl survey reports online by Monday, Nov. 19. (MDWFP Waterfowl Program)
Find migration and habitat reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.
Chris Jennings is the Web Editor for Ducks Unlimited Magazine.